Marlborough College’s much admired Summer School is joining the political fray for the first time this year by staging two potentially contentious Question Time debates of its own in July and August.
The Memorial Hall events will offer Summer School students — plus the residents of Marlborough — a chance to quiz well known politicians and journalists, among them Marlborough’s own MP Claire Perry, on national and local issues.
The political initiative comes from Jon Copp, director of the Summer School for the past 10 years, and was planned before the current political turmoil and the double-dip recession facing the government.
And the man in charge of organising the debates is Michael Kallenbach, former parliamentary correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, who lives in Minal, where he edited the village’s Parish Pump magazine for eight years.
“Jon and I first talked about it in November last year,” Mr Kallenbach, who will be in the chair to ensure fair play, told Marlborough News Online. “I wrote to many journalists and MPs I knew from my days at Westminster and, while they were all keen on the idea, the problem we faced is that’s not only summer holidays but the Olympics too.
“So many people who would have liked to have participated simply can’t because of that.”
Nevertheless, the first debate on July 26 will feature Tory MP Claire Perry alongside Chris Bryant MP, Labour’s shadow Home Office minister, Nick Watt, political editor of The Guardian, Douglas Murray, author, journalist and associate director of the think thank The Henry Jackson Society.
The powerful panel will be completed by Lt General Sir Barney White-Spunner, formidable chairman of the Countryside Alliance.
The second Question Time, due on August 9, will feature Crispin Blunt, Tory MP for Reigate and Minister for Prisons, Probation and Youth Justice, Daily Mail political journalist Andrew Pierce, Demos think tank senior researcher Louise Bazalgette, and Giselle Cary, senior research and policy analyst for the Resolution Foundation.
It’s panel will be completed by Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas.
And the hope is that the Question Time Debates will be so successful that Mr Kallenbach, who has now switched careers after training to become a psychotherapist, will become an annual event at the Summer School.
Could our embattled politicians do with some therapy too?
“I only deal with marriage therapy and counselling for couples,” replied Mr Kallenbach without referring to either David Cameron or Nick Clegg and the political relationship. “But I do believe that everyone can benefit along the way from being in therapy, depending on the therapist of course.”
He doesn’t regard the debates purely as an entertainment with celebrity names involved.
“It’s also about being informed and being able to question our lawmakers – and the opposition – about things that matter, such as tuition fees, granny tax and pasty prices,” he pointed out.
“However, the audience needs to be involved too – it’s not just about those on the podium. Without a vibrant participation from the audience an idea like this can’t get off the ground.”
“So we’re expecting not only the Summer School participants to attend but also those in and around the Marlborough area. It all promise to be a fun and stimulating evening.”
Tickets for the 8pm Question Time debates will be available at the door – entry £10.
For further information about Summer School events open to the public, especially those designed to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, visit www.mcsummerschool.org.uk